Alana Casanova-Burgess (Photo credits: Portrait: Tanya Barrett; logo: Fernando Norat / WNYC Studios)
After more than a century as citizens and colonial subjects, Puerto Ricans are still wholly misunderstood by the majority of Americans. While some might recognize a Bad Bunny bop on the radio, it’s not guaranteed that they will know the super-famous reggaetonero’s status as a second-class citizen—one with a U.S. passport but who does not have meaningful representation within Congress and cannot vote for president. A 2017 Morning Consult poll revealed that only 54 percent of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans living on the island were their fellow citizens. The poll came days after Hurricane Maria tore through cities, ripped down trees, and snatched rooftops, leaving millions without power—and about a week before Donald Trump arrived to pay paltry lip service, tossing a paper-towel roll into the crowd surrounding him. The following years have seen growing interest in (and ignorance of) Puerto Rico’s affairs, and in response a group of Puerto Rican journalists released the 2021 podcast La Brega: Stories of the Puerto Rican Experience in collaboration with WNYC and Futuro Studios.
Alana Casanova-Burgess, the producer and host, introduces La Brega by sharing voice messages from Boricuas explaining what the phrase means to them: the struggle, the hustle, the determination, the survival, work, the grind—it’s a continual searching for something. It’s a verb, a noun, a state of mind. “There’s an imbalance of power when you’re bregando, whether it’s against your boss or some larger injustice. It’s an underdog’s word. A brega implies a challenge [you] can’t really solve, so you have to hustle to get around it,” says Casanova-Burgess in the first episode, which focuses on potholes. “Puerto Ricans are constantly bregando with the jobs that don’t pay enough, the electricity that comes and goes…the government’s debts that aren’t paid. The frustration over status. Austerity. Colonialism.”
La Brega is simultaneously intimate and extensive, pivoting from family betrayal to big-picture colonial implications, from the creation of a small suburb to the state surveillance of las carpetas, all in the span of seven episodes (released in both English and Spanish). Taking a zoomed-out, diasporic view, the podcast examines key moments in the Puerto Rican–U.S. contemporary relationship to present a vividly honest and unflinching perspective that pulls no punches.